With a Mate in Mind

22 Sep 2014

With each pounding step in training and while racing, 32-year-old Craig McGowen thought a lot about his friend Sam Brown, who passed away from a rare kidney cancer.

Craig and Sam knew each other through playing cricket on Sydney’s Lower North Shore. Like many young men of their age, they made the pilgrimage to London for work and to have a great adventure. Sam pulled Craig aside one day to ask his opinion on a strange and persistent rash that was across his lower back. They both noted how ugly and raw it was. Over the following months, Sam became increasingly unwell and, upon coming home sought help. Sam was diagnosed with a rare hereditary kidney cancer and was under the care of ANZUP member Dr Nick Pavlakis and The Royal North Shore Hospital.

When Sam turned 30, he had a huge party to celebrate the milestone. But by that time, the cancer had spread to his liver and bones. After a brave fight, lasting 5 years, Sam died less than a month later. 

On the morning of Sam’s funeral, Craig went for a long run – something he hadn’t done in a long time. When Craig arrived at Sam’s funeral, the Brown family had organised for ANZUP envelopes to be available for mourners. They felt they needed somewhere to direct the generosity and grief of their friends. Rather than flowers and food, they asked people make a donation to ANZUP to honour Sam’s memory.

That day Craig decided to run the Sydney Marathon for Sam. He vowed that not only would he run but he would run for Sam, he would also raise funds for ANZUP.

The training regime was not easy. He ran most afternoons after work, building up to the 42 kilometres in slow increments. “It hurt but also felt great”, Craig said when we met in October. You could tell by the look on his face, there was a greater motivation than personal satisfaction as he told his story.

“When I made it to 30 kilometres in my training sessions, I started to taper off in preparation for the run around Sydney Harbour”. Craig ran the marathon in 3 hours and 41 minutes - a great time for a first marathon.

Craig recounted, “The last 8 kilometres were undoubtedly the hardest. I had tears through delirium. Throughout, I thought of Sam often and I could hear the cheering crowds and that motivated me to make it across
that line.”

Despite the overwhelming pain endured through a run of that distance, Craig had three highlights that he remembers fondly. Champion runner and former MP, Pat Farmer, was a pace runner. His job was to run at a pace so that people with a goal of 3 hours 40 minutes knew how they were travelling. Craig was able to run with Pat for over 5 kms. With a lap or two to go himself, he was passed by the leading female wheelchair athlete and, the greatest thrill of all was running past (in the opposite direction) the elite runners who were finishing the race.

While not really understanding exactly what ANZUP did, he was still happy and proud to run for us. Executive Officer Margaret McJannett had been in touch with Craig prior to the race and we were delighted he chose to run in an ANZUP running shirt. Craig was so proud of Sam and how he lived the last few years of his life. He was very proud to have achieved his own personal goal of running a marathon and doing it in under four hours and we are so grateful for the amazing generosity of his fundraising efforts.

Thanks to Craig McGowen and the Brown family for their generosity and for sharing their story with ANZUP. Craig raised $3,000, all of which was donated to ANZUP to help fund future kidney cancer research.